MSA Sports Countdown of Top 25 WPIAL Stories of 2013 – #25 to #1
Friday, January 3, 2014 | 3:32 PM
It has become a tradition like no other…at least during the holidays here at MSA Sports. It’s time to look back at another high school sports year with the top stories from around the WPIAL in 2013. Here is our entire countdown fr0m #25 through #1.
#25 – Playoff Drought Ends
In a year when the Pittsburgh Pirates ended a long Major League Baseball playoff drought, a long WPIAL football playoff drought also came to an end when in Week 9, the Avella Eagles clinched a WPIAL playoffs berth with a 55-14 thrashing of Bentworth to clinch fourth place in the Class A Tri-County South Conference.
For the second straight year, Avella started the season 4-0 in the conference and 5-0 overall, but in 2012, the Eagles lost their final four games and missed out on the postseason.
The success of the Eagles over the last two years really stands out when you consider the program won a total of three games the previous five years and nearly was shut down a few years ago when the team made national headlines when a cheerleader dressed for a game so the Eagles could have enough players.
The Eagles stay in the playoffs was short and not so sweet, as they lost to top-seed Sto-Rox 36-7, but the game marked the first playoff berth for Avella since 1976.
By the way, the new longest WPIAL football playoff drought belongs to Southmoreland High School. The Scotties haven’t been to the playoffs since 1979.
#24 – Vulcanized Falcon
From the category of ‘Are you kidding me’. the PIHL high school hockey season is about midway through its campaign, but it has already been a loooooooong season for Connellsville Falcons goaltender Thomas Clark.
While the Falcons are 0-11 in Open Class play, you can’t pin that on the efforts of Clark, who leads the entire league in saves with 640. That an average of nearly 60 saves a game and he has at least faced 52 shots on goal in each of the Falcons 11 losses.
The highlight, or lowlight of his season came just over a week ago on December 16th when Clark faced 108 shots on goal in a single game against Indiana. He made an incredible 97 saves, but Connellsville still lost 11-0. The Falcons were outshot 108-4 in the contest.
#23 – End of a Spartans Era
While Montour does not plan to fall off the face of the football and basketball competitive map, the last four years of success in both sports may never be duplicated thanks in large part to current Virginia Tech point guard Devin Wilson
“The Devin Wilson era is over at Montour,” said Montour football coach Lou Cerro. “It’s tough to see him go because he did a lot for our school in his time.”
Montour basketball coach Adam Kaufman said, “I’m certainly going to miss him and that goes without saying.”
Wilson had a senior year to remember, setting WPIAL records in football and leading Montour to a WPIAL title in basketball. He was the only athlete in the WPIAL named to the MSA Sports Elite 11 all-star football team and All Netters basketball team. Wilson was also named MSA Sports basketball player of the year. And this is rather impressive: Wilson was a four-year starter in both sports.
In football, Wilson was a standout receiver and defensive back. He finished his career as the all-time WPIAL leader in both receptions with 230 and receiving yardage with 3,192. As a senior, he was everything to Montour’s offense. He had 65 receptions for 1,083 yards, but also played running back and had 489 yards on 77 attempts.
“I don’t think I ever got mad at him in all the years he was here,” Cerro said. “He came to work every day, did what he was supposed to do, was never late, was always on time. Kids like that are hard to come by these days.”
In basketball, Wilson played point guard and averaged 17 points a game. He scored more than 1,400 career points.
While the personal statistics were impressive, so was Wilson’s ability to help teams win. During his career, Wilson won two WPIAL basketball titles, one WPIAL football championship, played in a WPIAL football championship game and helped Montour to two appearances in PIAA basketball championship games. During his four years as a starter, the basketball teams went 72-18 and the football teams 33-7.
“All the WPIAL championship games stick out in my mind for football and basketball,” Wilson said. “But probably the WPIAL [basketball] final my senior was most memorable.”
In that game, Montour knocked off perennial WPIAL power Chartiers Valley.
#22 – Imani Christian Bails Out on Football
Less than two weeks before the 2013 high school football season kicked off, Bishop Canevin was suddenly without an opponent for opening weekend. In fact, eight other members of the Class A Black Hills Conference were left trying to fill the void of an open week after receiving letters that Imani Christian was not going to be able to field a team this past fall.
WPIAL Executive Director Tim O’Malley said Imani Christian school officials sent a letter to the district and the eight other teams from the Black Hills Conference that they would not be able to honor their 2013 football schedule because of a lack of players.
2012 was the first year for Imani Christian as a member of the WPIAL and the football team finished tied for third place with Brentwood and Bishop Canevin with a 6-3 record, but the Saints were not eligible for the playoffs after violations put them on a two year probation.
Bishop Canevin, Brentwood, California, Carlynton, Chartiers-Houston, Clairton, Fort Cherry, Monessen and Serra Catholic now were in scramble mode in trying to find games to fill the open weeks in their schedule. Seven of the nine were successful as California and Clairton ended up not filling the void and playing an eight game schedule.
#21 – Seventh Heaven
It is official. West Allegheny just doesn’t lose when it plays for a WPIAL football championship.
The Indians (13-0) made it seven for seven with a 16-6 victory over Central Valley (11-2) to clinch the Class AAA title on a wintry autumn evening at Heinz Field in November. In the process, West Allegheny coach Bob Palko became the first WPIAL gridiron boss to win seven outright WPIAL crowns.
The other titles for Bob Palko and West Allegheny came in 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2009 and 2012.
West Allegheny won the game with its usual method of success that would involve suffocating defense and controlling the ball and taking large chunks of time off the clock on long, methodical drives. The Indians controlled the ball for 29:12, while Central Valley had the ball for just 18:48.
The championship also marked the fifth straight from a team out of the Parkway Conference, the second straight for West Allegheny.
Earlier in the day at Heinz Field, Woodland Hills coach George Novak had a chance to also win his seventh outright title, however the Wolverines were knocked off by the Pittsburgh Central Catholic Vikings in the Quad-A title game.
#20 – Virgin Playoff Teams
There are teams that haven’t played in the WPIAL football playoffs in ‘X’ amount of years, then there are schools that have never played in a WPIAL football game…ever. Until this 2013 season that is.
Summit Academy is a small court-adjudicated facility in rural Butler County that started in 1998. The Knights roster not only changes drastically from year to year, but also could change from week-to-week.
For most of the previous 15 years, Summit Academy was no factor in the playoff chase, but that changed this past fall. When the Knights started 1-3 this season, including a non-conference loss to Waynesburg, it looked like just another autumn in Herman. But after beating Ford City and Deer Lakes to even their mark at 3-3, Summit Academy picked up their biggest win in school history when they knocked off Valley with 20 unanswered fourth quarter points in a 26-6 victory over a Vikings team that was 5-1 coming into the game.
After a loss to Shady Side Academy, the Knights clinched their first playoff berth with a 38-20 victory over Freeport on the last day of the regular season. The postseason lasted one week for the Knights when they lost to Beaver Falls 50-26 in a Class AA First Round game.
The playoff run for West Shamokin was an even bigger story. The Wolves joined the WPIAL in 2000 and won 13 games in their first 12 years. included in that span was a WPIAL record 46-game losing streak that was finally snapped in Week Three of the 2012 season. The Wolves won two more games and finished with a school record 3 wins in a campaign.
West Shamokin opened the 2013 with three straight wins including a season opening 12-7 victory over perennial power Springdale. Then after losing two straight, the Wolves sealed the deal on the programs first postseason berth with three more wins in a row, including a 36-6 pasting of Leechburg in Week Eight that made the playoffs official. Like Summit Academy, it was a quick stay for the Wolves in the Class A tournament as they fell to Monessen 37-14 in Round One.
#19 – Record Diver
Pine-Richland senior Dominic Giordano came into the WPIAL Class AAA Diving Championships as the defending gold medalist and the unquestioned favorite. Giordano did not disappoint the crowd at North Allegheny High School in late February. Not only did he capture his second consecutive gold medal, but Giordano set a new WPIAL finishing the competition with 610.00 points after his 11 dives.
Heading into his last dive, the was no question that the Florida State bound diver would take the top spot, but Giordano’s total was 539.80, 67.70 points off the WPIAL record of 607.30 set by Connor Kuremsky of North Allegheny in 2011.
Giordano admitted afterwards he knew exactly how many points he needed to score to achieve “one of his goals” and set the new record. Giordano, who was mostly flawless throughout the competition, was flawless on his final attempt, netting a total of 70.20 points. In addition to his second consecutive goal medal, Giordano finished third as a sophomore in 2011 and took home the bronze.
#18 – Diamond Perfection
North Allegheny, South Park, Beaver and Western Beaver all claimed WPIAL baseball gold in late May. But it was a memorable Class AAA title game that capped off a perfect season for South Park.
In a game full of missed opportunities, the Eagles came thru when it counted the most, claiming a 4-3 nine inning victory over the Hopewell Vikings to become only the fifth team in WPIAL baseball history to win a district championship with a perfect 24-0 record. Adam Thompson, who was hit for in the eighth inning, re-entered the game to draw a bases loaded walk to push the Eagles to the win.
The game was the first extra inning title game since Franklin Regional beat Mount Lebanon 9-8 in 2001 to win the Class AAA title in eight innings. It’s the first WPIAL baseball title for South Park, the Eagles last made the title game in 2002.
Randy Dobnak, the third Eagles pitcher of the night, got the win, going 2.2 innings and struck out four. The senior combined with another senior, Jake Bywalski to blank the Vikings offense in six straight innings. Bywalski said that he thought he would get to pitch tonight, that he was able to spot his off-speed pitches and keep the Hopewell hitters off balance.
Hopewell had a chance to win the game in the eighth inning, with runners at first and second and one out, Ryan Cox laid down a bunt in front of home plate, catcher Justin Dilla’s throw hit Cox in the back, but Cox was ruled out of the runner’s lane going to first and called out on interference, forcing the runners back to their original stations. Arion Sepp lined out to right to end the inning and the Hopewll threat.
It looked like the Vikings would run away and hide after the first two innings. Logan Johnston hit a 1-0 pitch from starter Nick Yobbi well over the left center field fence to put the Vikings up 2-0 after one. Hopewell added a run in the second as it looked like Yobbi would get out of the inning untouched, but second baseman Carter Grote threw low, allowing Ryan Cox to reach first and Adam Murray to score from second base.
Trailing 3-0, it was South Park’s turn to hit the scoreboard in the fourth. Chris Winkler was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, he was balked to second base and Shane Fetsko singled to right field to bring home Winkler. Dobnak followed with a two run homer inside the left field foul pole to knot the game at three. He said he sat back on a curve ball from starter Clayton Covalt and just ripped it.
Hopewell left seven runners on base from the sixth thru eighth innings, including the bases loaded in the seventh. Dobnak was able to strike out Tim Hughes and Covalt to send the game to extra frames.
South Park lost in the PIAA Quarterfinals when they were blanked by Keystone Oaks 3-0 to end up with a 25-1 mark.
#17 – Tigers & Bridgers Again…Oh My
Nothing changed when it came to the WPIAL boys volleyball postseason…again.
In the WPIAL Boys AAA Volleyball Championship match the North Allegheny Tigers defeated the Bethel Park Black Hawks by a 3-2 match score to win their seventh title in a row, their 10th in the last 11 years and 16th overall title.
The Tigers took game one 25-17 and made it look easy. At 13-10 they went on a 12-4 run to win. Tommy Keisling the SR OH led the way with his power game.
In game two it was close and tied 9-9 before Bethel Park would take control. NA fell apart mid game as the Blackhawks went on an 8-3 run to go up 21-15. Camden Hay the SR OH came up big to lead the way and his kill gave BP a 5 point lead at 23-18 on their way to a 25-21 game two win to tie the match at 1-1.
In game three NA simply made a statement. They led early by 5-3 and went on a tear. Runs of 7-1 to go up 12-4, and an 11-4 finish showed why they are the dominant program in AAA.
All the momentum NA had they lost as the Black Hawks would go up early at 5-2 and hold the lead until 13-13. At this point the match became intense as they would trade the lead 5 times and tie 7 times before BP took control and at 21-21 scored the final 4 points to win game four 25-21. The left handed Grant Underwood would lead the way for Bethel Park.
In the deciding game 5, the Tigers rolled to a 7-1 lead as again Bethel could not sustain momentum from the previous game victory. They would themselves go on a 6-3 run to cut the lead to three but could get no closer. NA would get two big kills from David Haas and two from Brendan Brown on the way to a game five 15-8 win and a 3-2 match victory.
North Allegheny would go on to add a PIAA state championship to its bloated collection of gold.
In the WPIAL Class AA Boys Volleyball Championships, the Ambridge Bridgers defended their title with a 3-0 sweep of the Derry Trojans. It was their fifth WPIAL AA title in the last six years.
In game one Both teams played well early and the game was tied 5-5 before Ambridge took control. Too many unforced errors did in the Trojans as the Bridgers went on a 9-1 run to lead 14-6 on their way to a 25-17 game one victory.
In game two, the Trojans kept it closer and the game was tied at 9-9. For Derry, Matt Vasinko and Josh Wannamaker were the Trojans stars. But Ambridge would go on a 12-3 run to go up 21-12 lead. Derry would go on a late run but come up short and the Bridgers would go up 2-0 in the match.
In game three, the Trojans started strong and led 4-1, but Ambridge took control and tied 6-6. They would again go on a 9-1 run to lead 15-7. Again Derry would rebound and go on a 5-0 run to cut it to 16-13. But the Bridgers were just too big, too strong and too deep and went on to a 25-19 game three win and a 3-0 match victory.
For the Bridgers, Lee Smith had 21 kills, Brandon Buck 9, and Trent Monk 6. Cody Brooks had 9 digs, Dan Zajac 3 blocks, and Aaron Mueller 41 assists to pace Ambridge.
#16 – Golden Gruber
When it comes to the Butterfly race, nobody has been better over the last four years than Margaret Gruber of Mars. In the WPIAL Swimming championships in late February, the Virginia Tech recruit won her sixth WPIAL gold medal as she won the 100-yard Backstroke for the third consecutive year breaking her own WPIAL record set last year with a 54.51 time. Then she won her third straight 100-yard Butterfly.
In March, Gruber captured her fourth consecutive championship in the Butterfly and her fifth over state title at the PIAA state swimming championships to become one of the most accomplished swimmers from the WPIAL.
#15 – Perfect Champions
It was a rare Perfect Saturday at Heinz Field on November 23rd as all four WPIAL football champions crowned did so with no losses. Pittsburgh Central Catholic, West Allegheny, South Fayette and Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic were all 13-0 as they were presented with the golden football on a snowy day on the North Shore, but both the Lions and Trojans were not satisfied with just a district title, they wanted to stake their claim to state gold as well.
It was a record setting day in December for the South Fayette Lions, tying a PIAA title game record with 35 first half points, en route to a 41-0 victory over Imhotep Charter to win the PIAA Class AA title for the first time in school history. The victory also caps an undefeated season for the Lions, going 16-0.
Junior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh became the single season passing leader in WPIAL history, besting his brother Christian’s record of 3,726 yards set in 2010. Brumbaugh set the record in style with a 64-yard touchdown pass to Justin Watson on the second play of the second quarter.
Watson set a record of his own with a 31-yard catch in the second quarter, becoming the single season receiving leader in WPIAL history, knocking Carmen Connolly out of that spot. Connolly’s record, set in 2004, was 1,545 yards.
Brumbaugh finished the season with 3,910 yards, throwing for 299 yards on 18-of-25 attempts. He finished 41 yards shy of the state single season record. Watson had 6 catches for 126 yards, finishing with 1,568 yards for the season.
Head coach Joe Rossi said they used some of the predictions as many of the Philadelphia publications picked Imhotep Charter to win in a runaway, one predicted a score of 50-6 in favor of the Panthers. The South Fayette defense allowed just 148 yards of total offense, shutting down a Panthers offense that had scored 663 points this season. With the 41 points, South Fayette scored 719 points this season, becoming the eighth best scoring offense in PIAA history and the 7th state champion to score over 700 points in a season.
Meanwhile, It was a fairytale ending for the Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic Trojans, claiming a 15-14 victory in overtime after rolling the dice. There was no doubt in Head Coach Bob Revenstahl’s mind, he was going for two and the win. It was, after all, a decision that paid off in an opening season victory over Apollo-Ridge and it paid off with an undefeated season and a PIAA Class A Football Championship on Friday afternoon at Hersheypark Stadium.
After falling behind 14-7 in overtime, Junior running back PJ Fulmore scored from 10 yards out on the first play of Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic’s first possession. Fulmore then used a second and third effort, as well as an extra push from Joshua Churchin to score the two-point conversion and give the Trojans their first ever state football crown. Fulmore carried 33 times for 109 yards in the win, but it was the final three yards that did not show up on the score sheet that were the biggest.
Fulmore said he knew the Trojans would go for two as soon as he scored. On the conversion, Fulmore was hit at the line of scrimmage and at the two yard line before surging into the endzone. He credited Churchin with a final push, allowing him to score after initially being stood up.
Old Forge took the second half kickoff and thought they would take a two touchdown lead, using 13 plays and eight minutes of clock. But Manetti tossed an incomplete pass on 4th down at the 14 yard line. Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic took over the football and Fulmore stole the show, carrying ten straight times to move the ball to the Blue Devil 33. Ryan Kirby took a handoff from Fulmore and tossed their version of a throwback screen to Fulmore to gain 11 on 4th and 9. Three plays later, the Trojans found the end zone as Fulmore hit Jerome Turner with a lateral, the junior got a block from Ronnie Meder and went down the sideline for a 16-yard touchdown, tying the game with 7:01 remaining. The drive took 15 plays and nearly nine minutes to complete.
Both teams would exchange punts, Old Forge gained possession at it’s own 32 with one timeout left. Using their senior running back Brandon Yescavage, the Blue Devils gained a first down before hitting on a big pass play from Manetti to Schuback for a 22-yard gain to the 16. Manetti then hit Schuback to the 12 with eight seconds left in the game.
Schuback would attempt a 29-yard field goal that came up short of the mark after being partially blocked by Meder, sending the game to overtime. Old Forge won the toss and went on offense first. It took two plays for the Blue Devils to score, as Yescavage carried twice for five yards each, including the go-ahead touchdown. Schuback kicked the extra point, setting up the Trojans for the dramatic win.
The win is the 36th victory for the WPIAL in the State Championships and the 12th State Championship for the WPIAL’s Class A. The Trojans had just 145 yards of offense but held Old Forge to 219 yards. The Trojans finish the season unbeaten at 16-0. They will likely be one of the favorites to repeat next season with Fulmore, Turner and quarterback Adam Sharlow, who missed the last eight games with a knee injury, all returning. Defensively, Meder led the North Catholic with nine solo stops.
#14 – That Girl Can Run
Breanna Schwartz of Shaler ended her sophomore season and started her junior season proving again she will go down as one of the best female long distance runners in district history.
Schwartz helped headlined a memorable day at Baldwin High School back in May in the 2013 WPIAL AAA and AA Individual Track and Field Championships.
The then sophomore not only won gold in the 800 and the 1600 meter race, but she set new WPIAL records in both races.
Another record went down at the Coopers Lake Course in Butler in late October as Schwartz, now a junior won her second straight WPIAL Girls Class AAA cross-country championship. She broke the course record by nearly six seconds with a winning time of 17:52 and finished 53 seconds ahead of the runner-up.
#13 – The Dominator
Since the rubber in the pitching circle was moved back a few years ago, offenses have taken advantage with scoring in softball being up around the WPIAL. I guess then that would make recent Riverside graduate Kirsten Wilson a little old school.
Wilson pitched like a champion the entire 2013 season and capped it off with leading her Panthers teammate to the 2013 WPIAL Class AA championship with a 5-1 win over Deer Lakes back in late May.
Wilson entered the district title game with an 18-0 record and a .043 earned run average with 213 strikeouts and twelve straight shutouts. She picked up where she left off by not allowing a hit until there were two outs in the 6th inning and by then, the Panthers were leading 3-0.
Deer Lakes was the defending champion and the playoffs top seed, however they looked nervous from the get-go, committing three errors in the first inning leading to three unearned Panthers runs.
Wilson saw her shutout string end, but allowed only one earned run on two hits with two walks and eleven strike outs.
Riverside ended up going 22-1 with their only loss coming in the state championship game, a 1-0 decision to Brandywine Heights.
#12 – A Pair of Golden Stunners
Defending WPIAL and PIAA champion was a heavy favorite to repeat in girls basketball in both the district and state playoffs. However somebody forgot to tell their arch-rivals about that.
After losing to Seton-LaSalle twice in the regular season by scores of 66-35 and 66-58, Bishop Canevin started the WPIAL basketball championship weekend in March in grand fashion, upsetting the top-seeded Rebels 56-47 and winning their first girls basketball championship in school history
Seton LaSalle came into the game with a 66 game winning streak over WPIAL competition and an 8 game winning streak over the Crusaders.
Leading the way for Bishop Canevin was Johnie Olkosky with 26 points and 7 three pointers, a record for the Girls AA Championship. Carly Forse added 16 for the Rebels.
The two AA-Section 3 rivals would meet for a fourth time in the season and a second time in the postseason with a berth in the state finals at stake as Seton-LaSalle looked for revenge against Bishop Canevin in the PIAA Semifinals.
Once again the Crusaders stunned the Rebels in a 41-36 battle that advanced Bishop Canevin to Hershey where the Crusaders surprising postseason run ended with a state championship following a 45-38 triumph over York Catholic.
#11 – Legendary Coaches Say So Long
On the same January day that the President was inaugurated into office, two high-profile WPIAL football coaches said goodbye to their days as a high school football coach. it was the start to an off-season that saw four veteran successful coaches hang up the whistle.
Jack McCurry, one of the winningest coaches in the history of the WPIAL, stepped down as North Hills’ coach after 35 seasons. McCurry called his decision a “semi retirement” because he’s not totally sure he won’t coach again in some capacity.
McCurry is one of the deans of WPIAL football. He is third on the all-time WPIAL list of victories with a record of 281-108-9. He won four WPIAL titles, including one co-championship. He also won a PIAA championship in 1993.
Terry Smith left Gateway High School to become the receivers coach at Temple University. He also was the school’s athletic director. Smith was extremely successful, making the WPIAL playoffs all 11 seasons as coach at his alma mater. He won seven conference titles and made the WPIAL championship game four times. He lost each time, though. His record was 101-30 (.770 winning percentage).
Clair Altemus retired after building Pine-Richland into a Class AAA football power that including a WPIAL championship in 2003.
Altemus was 106-65 in 16 years coaching the Rams, overseeing the growth of a program from a nondescript Class A team to a perennial playoff team in Class AAA to eventually a Class AAAA team.
It’s hard not to think of Bob Jacoby when one thinks of Bishop Canevin. The longtime football coach retired in January after 40 years of coaching the Crusaders football team.
Jacoby also served as athletic director and softball coach at Bishop Canevin for 30 years each. He finished with a 238-170-7 record and won a WPIAL championship in 1990 in a dramatic victory over Washington and came within a 2-point conversion from a state title the same year.
#10 – Sto-Rox Cuts Spring Sports
School district budget cuts led to Sto-Rox High School dropping its baseball and softball programs in late June. While the district is looking for a co-op with another school district for both programs, returning baseball and softball players can either move to another district, attend a private school or just not play this upcoming spring.
Officials said there was talk about eliminating the entire athletic department before a proposal to just drop the two spring sports was passed on an 8-1 vote by the school board. Also part of the district wide cuts were eight teaching jobs and the school librarian.
The decision is a stunning blow to what is one of the top softball programs in the district. Bill Palermo is the winningest softball coach in both WPIAL and PIAA history. He led the Vikings to one state championship and WPIAL Class AA titles in 1985, 1986, 1989, 1993 and 2006 plus five straight Class A championships from 2000 through 2004. Palermo retired after this past season in which Sto-Rox finished 13-4 during the regular season and were upset in the WPIAL Class A First Round by the Shenango Wildcats 7-6 in 8 innings.
#9 – Record Mat Streaks Continue
When it comes to WPIAL team wrestling, the golden domination by two programs continued in 2013.
With his team trailing by a single point, Canon-McMillan junior Dalton Macri pinned Franklin Regional’s Dan Turner just one minute into the final bout of the night at 120 pounds, nailing down the top-seeded Big Macs’ record fourth straight WPIAL Class AAA team wrestling title in the team finals back in February. Macri’s victory capped off a dual meet that featured the Panthers (17-3) building a 12-point lead midway through the match, only to see Canon-McMillan (15-0) battle back for a hard-fought 31-26 win.
With the championship win, Canon-McMillan eclipses the record of three straight WPIAL Class AAA crowns previously shared with the storied 1986-88 North Allegheny teams. The Big Macs now possess a total of nine WPIAL team championship trophies. The Connellsville Falcons (7 titles) and North Allegheny (5 titles) have also fared well in the WPIAL AAA team dual meet tournament that was first contested towards the end of the 1978-79 season.
The Burrell Buccaneers had a one goal in mind when beginning the 2012-2013 wrestling season, continuing their dominance in Class AA on their quest to climb the stairway to seven. They were successful, with a 35-30 victory over the South Fayette Lions, Burrell continued its winning streak of seven straight WPIAL Championships while winning its ninth overall WPIAL Gold.
The match clincher came at 106 pounds, Burrell sophomore Jason Roberts wanted to be a difference maker, and he was just that. After a scoreless first period against South Fayette freshman Jasper Wolfe, Roberts gave up a quick escape to trail 1-0. But a big takedown for Roberts would put him up 2-1. After a locked hands penalty, the match was tied at two heading into the 3rd period. Roberts showed resiliency in the final period, escaping from the bottom and holding off Wolfe for the final seconds to win the match 3-2 to clinch another district title for Burrell. South Fayette would receive two forfeits to end the match but it would not make a difference, as Burrell won its 7th straight and 9th overall WPIAL Championship with the 35-30 win.
A week later in the PIAA team wrestling playoffs, Canon-McMillan captured a second straight AAA state championship while Burrell was stunned in Round One of the AA playoffs.
#8 – Golden Career
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who graduated from Hopewell High School in June, ended her incomparable high school career by being named the MSA Sports Girl Athlete of the Year for an unprecedented third year in a row. She was a three-sport star in the sports of volleyball, basketball and track and field. She was superb as an individual athlete but also led her teams to a great deal of success.
There is no doubting that Walker-Kimbrough did more than any three-sport athlete in the WPIAL in a long time. In her career, she won one WPIAL basketball championship, one WPIAL volleyball championship and three individual championships in track and field. She won the WPIAL Class AAA long jump as a sophomore and senior and also won the triple jump as a senior.
Walker-Kimbrough, who is 6 feet tall, certainly came a long way from her first experience with sports. When she was in fourth grade, she tried out for an Aliquippa girls basketball team, wearing jeans and a sweater. She made the team but she said, “I was bad when I first started playing.”
By the time she was a freshman at Hopewell, she was agile and had plenty of skills in basketball. Then she added volleyball and track and field to her resume – and she eventually starred in everything.
Not far into her high school career, she was all-state in basketball and volleyball, and a WPIAL champ in track and field.
Although Division I colleges were interested in her for volleyball and basketball, she figured out basketball was her best sport. She finished her career with 2,427 points. As a senior, she did everything for Hopewell but work the scoreboard. She averaged 28 points, 10 rebounds, 6 steals and 4 blocks.
Walker-Kimbrough was ranked among the top 100 basketball players in the country in the 2012-2013 season and she signed with the University of Maryland basketball team. Maryland has a top womens program and was ranked in the top 10 in the country some last season. Walker-Kimbrough has some lofty goals now, ones that are affected by what she did in high school. But no matter what Walker-Kimbrough accomplishes the rest of the way, she left an everlasting impression on WPIAL sports.
#7 – The Golden Tigers
North Allegheny High School has had GREAT success in athletic this century has witnessed by winning ten MSA Sports Class AAAA Cup in the ten years the network has hosted the competition. But what the Tigers athletic teams accomplished in the 2012-2013 school year my never been done again.
There are 20 sports in which schools can earn points in the MSA Sports Cup and for the first time in ten years, a school earned points in ALL of them.
North Allegheny scored a mind-numbing and record 1,115 points this year, ‘edging’ runner-up Peters Township by a mere 635 points. Mount Lebanon finished third, Canon-McMillan fourth and Hempfield fifth. The rest of the top ten was Upper St. Clair, Bethel Park, Latrobe, Gateway and Fox Chapel.
Where do you start with the sports year that North Allegheny enjoyed? In the fall, they captured WPIAL gold in boys cross country and district and state gold in football. Then in the winter season, more gold came in both WPIAL boys and girls swimming along with a PIHL and Pa Cup state championship in ice hockey. The golden season for the Tigers concluded in the spring with a WPIAL and PIAA state crown in boys volleyball, District 7 championships in baseball and boys track & field and district runner-up silver in softball and boys tennis.
In all, the Year of the Tigers delivered eight district championships and three state crowns to North Allegheny High School and helped them cruise to a tenth MSA Sports Cup in ten years, thus concluding a decade of excellence at NAHS.
Already in the 2013-2014 chase for the cup, North Allegheny has an 80 point lead in Class AAAA thanks to WPIAL championships this fall from the girls tennis (state crown as well), girls volleyball and boys cross-country teams.
#6 – Wild, Wild Washington
After losing to Aliquippa in the 2012 WPIAL Class AA football championship game and with many key players returning, including one of the top running backs in the state, there were high expectations in the fall of 2013 for the Washington High School football team.
What happened instead was one of the craziest up and down seasons a team has ever gone through.
It all started in Week 3 when Division I running back Shai McKenzie tore his ACL in a victory over Charleroi, an injury that would cost him the rest of his senior season. It was a huge loss for the Little Prexies. McKenzie finished his career with 4,856 yards on 493 carries and 77 touchdowns. The yardage is the 15th best in WPIAL history. Had he stayed healthy, there is a good chance McKenzie would have become only the fifth running back in WPIAL history to reach 6,000 career yards. McKenzie averaged 9.8 yards for his career. Of the top 15 rushers in WPIAL history, McKenzie’s 9.8 average is the best (discounting Clairton’s Tyler Boyd, whose career carries were not available). The top two leading rushers in WPIAL history – Rushel Shell of Hopewell and Mike Vernillo of Fort Cherry – averaged 8.2 yards.
Despite his loss, Wash High kept on winning and was 5-0 at the midway point of the regular season. Then the name Zach Blystone surfaced.
Blystone is a talented 6-foot-3 junior lineman who transferred from Charleroi to Washington before the school year. He played for the first time in Week 6 against Brownsville. Charleroi contested Blystone’s transfer, saying it was for athletic intent. After a hearing, the WPIAL ruled Blystone ineligible, saying he transferred for athletic intent, which is against PIAA and WPIAL rules. The PIAA upheld the WPIAL after an appeals hearing. The Blystones got a new lawyer who claimed there was new evidence in the case. The WPIAL again ruled Blystone ineligible, but the Blystones again appealed to the PIAA. After another hearing two weeks ago, the PIAA unanimously ruled Blystone ineligible. The PIAA’s decisions are significant because the PIAA has overturned the WPIAL in many eligibility hearings over the past few years. Twice, the PIAA ruled Blystone ineligible. The Blystone’s took their case to court where it was later dropped and the Little Prexies were forced to forfeit their victory over Brownsville in Blystone’s only game played.
But despite going 7-2 overall and finishing second in the Class AA Interstate Conference, there was a chance Washington would not be eligible for the playoffs because of another eligibility issue.
The day before the final game of the regular season in October, the PIAA overturned a previous WPIAL ruling that ordered Washington to forfeit five wins for using a player who is in his fifth year of high school. Under PIAA and WPIAL rules, a student only gets four consecutive years to play sports when the student starts ninth grade. Regardless of whether the student doesn’t play sports for a year, he/she gets only four continuous years. The ruling meant Washington would not have to forfeit six wins and would be in the Class AA playoffs. The PIAA listened to the case of Quorteze Levy, a senior receiver-defensive back who is in his fifth year of high school. He spent his freshman year at a school in Michigan and did not participate in sports. He then transferred to Washington, repeated ninth grade and then stayed at the school for four years. Washington turned itself in to the WPIAL a week earlier after a guidance counselor discovered Levy was in his fifth year of high school. The WPIAL had a hearing the following Monday with Levy and Washington school officials. Washington asked the WPIAL for a hardship waiver that would grant Levy a fifth year of eligibility. The WPIAL granted Levy a waiver. But the league said the waiver started only Monday. The league did not make the waiver retroactive to the start of the fall semester. The WPIAL said when Levy played this season before Monday, he was ineligible. Under PIAA and WPIAL rules, a team must forfeit any games where an ineligible player is used. Washington didn’t stop at the WPIAL level, though. The school appealed the case to the PIAA and the PIAA voted to make the hardship waiver retroactive to the beginning of this semester. So, Washington did not have to forfeit games.
The Little Prexies lost to Seton-LaSalle 35-27 in the First Round of the Class AA playoffs ending a roller coaster season for Washington.
#5 – Section 3 Superiority
Everybody knew that WPIAL Class AAAA Section 3 in boys basketball was special. But the strength of the four postseason representatives ended up being historic.
#1 seed New Castle, #2-seed North Allegheny, #3-seed Hampotn and #12-seed Seneca Valley all advanced through the First Round…then through the Quarterfinals before making the Class AAAA Semifinals a personal Section 3 in-house tournament.
New Castle beat Latrobe & Gateway by a combined score of 172-119. North Allegheny beat Canon-McMillan & Fox Chapel by a combined score of 144-99. Hampton beat Mount Lebanon & McKeesport by a combined 124-111 score and Seneca Valley upset #5 Pittsburgh Central Catholic and #4 Upper St. Clair by a combined score of 116-75.
Section 1, Section 2 and Section 4 teams were no match for the Canes, Tigers, Talbots and Raiders.
Once into the Semfinals, the 2012 Class AAA Finalists prevailed to ensure a rematch for the Class AAAA championship as New Castle beat Seneca Valley 71-46 and Hampton disposed of North Allegheny in a tougher contest 66-62. The Red Hurricanes won the title over the Talbots 68-53 to cap off a postseason dominated by one section like never before.
#4 – The Sensational Smith
The pool gold and records kept coming for one outstanding area swimmer. Leah Smith of Oakland Catholic continued her dominance in the girls 500 yard freestyle at the WPIAL finals in late February. She set another record beating her score from 2011 at 4:39.78, besting her WPIAL and PIAA records from last year.
In March, Smith beat out two-time defending champion Meaghan Raab of Hershey in the 200-yard freestyle, then broke her own state record to capture gold in the 500-yard freestyle. The Viriginia Tech recruits winning mark of 4 minutes, 36.41 seconds was the second fastest time EVER by a female high school swimmer in the United States.
#3 – Lenny Leads the List
There were 10,000 reasons to like Lenny Williams at quarterback. Williams, a senior at Sto-Rox, became the all-time leading passer in WPIAL history in yards and touchdowns this past fall. But what has been lost in the passing numbers and records is the fact that Williams ended up with over 10,000 yards offense.
No other WPIAL player is known to have 10,000 yards offense in a career.
Williams has 7,799 yards passing and his rushing yardage puts him over 10,000. Williams passed for more than 2,000 and ran for more than 1,000 last year. This season, he threw for 2,709 yards and 34 touchdowns and also rushed for 551 yards.
As for throwing, Williams ended up throwing for 8,504 yards passing. Only six QBs in state history have thrown for 8,000 career yards. They are Matt Bodamer of Port Allegany, Derek Buganza of Brockway, Brendan Nosovitch of Allentown Central Catholic, Kyle Smith of Lancaster Catholic, Pat Devlin of Downingtown East and Tyler Smith of Wilson.
Incidentally, to show how much passing has increased in recent years, five of those six quarterbacks who passed for 8,000 yards graduated in the past five years. The only one who didn’t was Devlin, who graduated in 2006.
#2 – The Perfect Storm…Again
The New Castle boys basketball team made history with a win in the WPIAL Class AAAA boys basketball championship game in early March, becoming the first team in WPIAL history to win back-to-back titles with undefeated records. The Red Hurricane are also the first team to win back to back championships in different classifications.
The third meeting of the year between New Castle and Hampton turned out to be like the first two. In fact, it turned out a lot like the previous 25 games for the defending Triple-A champs turned Quad-A beasts. The Red Hurricane rocked the Talbots with a big second quarter and rolled to a 68-53 victory before a raucous crowd at the A.J. Palumbo Center.
Things were quiet for the first two minutes of the game. Scoreless even. Then a Brandon Dominick three opened up the flood gates for New Castle. Ryan Luther answered for Hampton, scoring his team’s first five points. The Red Hurricane slowed things down to close out the quarter, and led 19-15 and the end of one.
The Talbots came out strong in the second quarter behind a big Ryan Luther dunk and pulled within one point. New Castle remained strong though, going on a 14-4 run to close out the half. The Red Hurricane headed to the locker room ahead 36-22 and never looked back.
Foul trouble found Hampton in the third quarter, putting New Castle in the bonus with three minutes to go in the third quarter. Collin Luther picked up his fourth foul for the Talbots, and was forced to the bench. The Red Hurricane stretched their lead to 52-32 through three quarters.
Hampton senior Richard Ford saw some playing time in the fourth quarter, scoring nine quick points. The Talbots would come within ten points before New Castle pulled away for good. As the final buzzer sounded, the Red Hurricane claimed the gold with a 68-53 victory.
As a team, New Castle went 14-26 from the free throw line on the night. The Red Hurricane were hot from beyond the arc, as well, hitting 11 times on the night, including Anthony Richards with four.
Ryan Luther led all scorers with 17 points. Shawn Anderson led New Castle with 16 points. Antonio Rudolph had 15 points, including three threes, and Anthony Richards chipped in 12 points for the Red Hurricane.
New Castle’s perfect season and hopes of a state title ended in the PIAA Semifinals when the Canes fell to Lower Merion 67-63.
#1 – The End of a Historic Run
In 2010, the Clairton win streak and championship run was gaining momentum and ended up #2 on our year in review list. The last two years, the Bears history making run of success was the #1 story. So it is for the third and final time.
‘The Streak’ came to an end in a Week 4 loss at home to the Clairton Bears 42-24. When all was said and done, the district AND state win streak record that lasted 66-games began on September 11, 2009 with a 46-0 shutout of Monessen and was ended by the Greyhounds on September 20, 2013.
The streak included three perfect seasons of 16-0, four Black Hills Conference championships, four additional WPIAL Class A crowns added on to the one they captured in 2008 and four straight PIAA state titles and was in the top ten of high school football winning streak ever in the United States. Streaks are made to be broken, but it might be a long, long time before ‘Bout Dat’ is erased from the district and state record books.
Then after finishing the regular season as Tri-Champs of the Class A Black Hills Conference with Monessen and Fort Cherry and beating Frazier and Fort Cherry in the first two rounds of the Class A playoffs, these Bears went into hibernation in Mid-November instead of Mid-December for the first time since 2007.
With a tip of the cap to the back and orange, we offer one final salute to a team that had a run of success for the ages. The Bears 66-game WPIAL and PIAA record win streak ended in September, but their loss that ended their season in the Semifinals to Sto-Rox snapped:
* A 22-game WPIAL win streak going back to a Semifinals loss to Springdale in the 2007 playoffs.
* A 30-game WPIAL and PIAA playoff win streak which started after they lost to Steelton-Highspire in the 2008 PIAA Finals.
* A record run of FIVE consecutive WPIAL football championships.
* A record-tying run of FOUR consecutive PIAA football championships.
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